The act of reading ... begins on a flat surface, counter or page, and then gets stirred and chopped and blended until what we make, in the end, is a dish, or story, all our own.
— Adam Gopnik

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June 22, 2011


Among those expressing approval of the Sherman and Victory was the renowned American historian Henry Adams, who was so taken by it that he stopped nearly every day for another look. But then Adams's feelings about the sculptor were like those of no one else, because of what Saint-Gaudens had achieved with the Adams memorial.
      It had been their mutual friend John La Farge who had urged Adams to commission Saint-Gaudens to make the statue in memory of Adams's wife, Clover, following her suicide in Washington in 1885. Suffering from depression, she had swallowed potassium cyanide, the chemical she used for retouching photographs.
      At a meeting with Saint-Gaudens in New York, Adams had given the sculptor a general idea of what he had in mind for the monument, whereupon Saint-Gaudens is said to have seated a young assistant on a stand and thrown an Indian rug over his head.
      Adams requested that the figure be neither conspicuously male or female. He wanted it to convey complete repose and he wanted no name or anything inscribed on it. Lastly, he was no wish to see it until it was finished. He then left on extended tours of Japan and the Pacific Islands, taking La Farge with him as a companion.
      Upon seeing the monument for the first time, after its installation at Rock Creek Cemetery, Adams was entirely satisfied.  'The whole meaning and feeling of the figure is in its universality and anonymity,' he wrote. His name for it was The Peace of God.
from The Greater Journey:  Americans in Paris, by David McCullough

I have always loved this sculpture, ever since first reading about Henry and Clover Adams in college. {I'm only sorry that I wasn't able to finally see it when I lived closer to Washington, D.C.} It is sometimes referred to as 'Grief,' but Henry Adams disapproved. Writing to Augustus Saint-Gaudens's son Homer, Adams said '"Do not allow the world to tag my figure with a name! Every magazine writer wants to label it as some American patent medicine for popular consumption—Grief, Despair, Pear's Soap, or Macy's Mens' Suits Made to Measure. Your father meant it to ask a question, not to give an answer...'  

It's just one of the many old friends I read about again in The Greater Journey.  I'll write more about it soon {for Paris in July};  it's a wonderful book.

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1 comment:

Frances said...

A beautiful sculpture and a book I would very much like to read. Love that Adams opposed naming or the appropriation of "my figure." Personal. Not consumer goods.

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